Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Ken Mathews (June 2019)

Kenneth Joseph Mathews MBE of the Royal Sutton Walking Club 27/6/34 to 2/6/19

In the 1960’s Great Britain had some of the best race walkers in the World.
Surrey walker, Paul Nihill, who was the European 20k Champion in 1969 and came 2nd in the Olympic 50k in Tokyo in 1964; Stan Vickers was a 3rd in the 20k in the Rome Olympics of 1960 and previously in 1958 won the European; Don Thompson, won the 1960 Olympic 50k race walk in very hot conditions and there was Ken Mathews who, besides winning the Europesan 20k in 1962, won the 1964 gold medal for 20k in Tokyo (The first 4 in the 20k in Tokyo at the Olympics were 1 Ken Mathews in a Championship record of 1:29;34; 2 Dieter Lidner (Germany GDR) 1:31.13.2; 3 Volodymyr Golubnichy (UKR)1:31:59.4;4 Noel Freeman (Australia)1:32:36.8).

Electrician Ken, started race walking at 18, having been persuaded by his father...
When I talked to him in Tokyo,in the Olympic Stadium in 1964 he said “It certainly seems I picked the right sport’ He added ‘It feels great to have won the gold medal and, it has made up for everything that happened to me in Rome and, lots more besides. Rome was a terrific disappointment to me, and more especially as I had clocked the fastest time in the World until then. On that occasion I had suffered a bout of influenza a few weeks before the Game and thought I would be well recovered by the time my race came round, but unfortunately it as not to be. My European Gold medal in Belgrade 2 years later taught me a great deal, and certainly proved that I had the stamina necessary to combat the extremely undulating course there.
1964 TOKYO 20k Final 15th of October 1964

Ken continues—‘Still, the Tokyo came which suited me best of all being reasonably flat.”
“After the half way mark, when I learned I was drawing away from the field all the time, I knew I was going to win the gold medal- I settled down to the race, very relaxed, as I was n the lead by about 100 yards then”

What did he think was the reason for GB’s good showing in Tokyo?
“Depth of performers at home, plus the fact that every one was trying really hard on this occasion. It was a tussle for third place in the British team. It could have been George Chaplin from John Edgington’s club (John was 8th in Tokyo 20k)-but in fact it was John Paddick who came through in the final trial for selection.

Did Ken think it way a wise move to move up to the front as they were about to go out of the stadium, so early in the race?
“I moved out so that I would not get myself boxed in at a crucial point, just before leaving the stadium, and, so that also, should anyone make a break for it I would be in a postion that would enable me to chase after them. That was why I moved up to Ron Zinn’s shoulder in the stadium”

What was his candid opinion on when one hears laughing and jeering at walkers, even at the White City meetings in London?
“I think that is purely ignorance on their part, and that they do not understand just what is going on, and why we do it. They should certainly try and find out the reasons behind athletes doing the different events – and especially walking. Anyone can walk and at almost any age. It is more an extended walk rather than a gait as most people imagine. With Race Walking it is 100% effort, and anything less than that would be too slow to enable him or her to compete in anything. When people laugh I ignore them, and think of all the good times I have had since I began walking. All the trips around the World - and all the friends I have made, and I mean real friends”
“Through having to train so hard and so long, and get that oh so necessary sleep, a walker loses a great deal of his social life, the sort of social life that non-athletes non-walkers enjoy – but then think of the tremendous amount gained from such experience as I have enjoyed over the years from walking”.

Alastair Aitken

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